Virginia House of Delegates Moves Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Forward

The bill dictates that simple possession would only carry civil penalties.
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Virginia took a major step toward becoming the latest state to decriminalize marijuana on Monday, with a bill advancing out of one half of the Commonwealth’s general assembly.

The Democratic-controlled Virginia House of Delegates passed HB 972, a bill that seeks to effectively treat simple marijuana possession like a parking ticket.  If it were to become law, HB 927 would ensure that anyone busted for simple possession of pot would only be subject to a civil penalty carrying a maximum fine of $50. Currently under Virginia law, a first time offense like that could land you in jail for up to 30 days, or with a fine of up to $500.

HB 972 would also ensure that such a civil penalty would not go on an individual’s criminal record (and that previous convictions would be sealed), while also eliminating driver’s licenses suspensions for adults. It would also treat hashish oil like marijuana.

The bill was introduced by Democratic Del. Charniele Herring, who celebrate the legislation making it out of the House on Monday.

“Since this issue disproportionately affects people of color, it is an important first step in combating the racial disparities in the Virginia criminal justice system,” Herring said on Twitter.

Monday’s passage was a significant milestone for the effort to decriminalize, as the bill looks like a safe bet to become law. The Virginia state Senate, where Democrats have a narrow majority, is expected to pass its own version of the bill imminently. Last month, a Senate committee passed a decriminalization bill that would also reduce the fine for small-scale possession to $50. 

Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has already signaled that he will sign the legislation into law once it arrives on his desk. Last month, Northam announced his support for decriminalizing small scale marijuana possession as part of a broader effort to reform the state’s criminal justice system.

In the announcement, Northam said he would like the civil penalty for simple marijuana possession to be brought to $50, citing statistics showing that pot arrests disproportionately impact people of color.

“All Virginians deserve access to a fair and equitable criminal justice system,” Northam said in the announcement. “My proposed criminal justice reform legislation and budget initiatives will combat mass incarceration, increase supports for returning citizens, and ensure meaningful second chances for those who have paid their debts to society. This is a bold step towards a more just and inclusive Commonwealth, and I look forward to working with the General Assembly to pass these measures into law.”

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